Planting exotic pines "increases threat of needle blight to native trees" say researchers

Widespread planting of exotic pine trees for timber has introduced new races of fungi and raised the threat posed to native Scots pine from Dothistroma needle blight (DNB) in Scotland, according to new research.

Image: USDA
Image: USDA

Plant researcher Dr Peter Hoebe of Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC), University of Edinburgh Honorary Fellow Richard Ennos and colleagues studied genes in fungi attacking pine needles from several locations to determine the diversity and spread of the fungal pathogen Dothistroma septosporum.

They found that stands of Corsican and lodgepole pine planted next to native Scots pine increased the risk of disease, and are now calling for the removal of these exotic species from around native pine populations and the restriction of movement of planting material to minimise its impact.

Hoebe said: "In many cases, needle blight itself doesn’t necessarily kill the trees, but the loss of needles affects the growth of mainly young pines. Planting exotic species related to native species reduces rather than enhances the resilience of forests to pathogens."

Ennos added: "Our extensive study sheds new light on the risks associated with the introduction of exotic species in general, and valuable insight into how the current needle blight outbreak might be better managed."

The findings are published in Evolutionary Applications.

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